A Parent’s Greatest Gift

I was lucky. I wasn’t raised with money. I know, I sound like an old fart reminiscing about walking a mile in snow without shoes (we dreaded hearing those hard luck stories from our own elders), but my point here is that I am really, really thankful for having had to make my own way in life. I think raising self-reliant children is a lost art in parenting.

I’m talking about those parents of Baby Boomers who didn’t think twice about telling their older children, “Sorry, but we’re doing well to put food on the table and a roof over your head. If you want the latest toy or electronic device, save your money. You can ask neighbors to do their lawns, pet sit or babysit. You need to learn how to make and manage your own money.” We never questioned that. We knew if we wanted something extra, we’d have to be innovative to come up with the funds ourselves. I can’t imagine throwing a tantrum because my mom or stepdad wouldn’t buy me something frivolous. I could see how hard they worked for the basics.

Sure, I grew up with kids who had everything handed to them, and I will admit that I dreamed of having a canopy bed or riding my own horse; but honestly, I was content just being able to be around those trappings when I visited their homes. I was also fortunate that I had a mother who loved to sew and create beautiful things. My clothes were more unique than the store bought ones because they had my mother’s eye for design and artistic flair. Even the wealthiest of my friends envied my look. I was never embarrassed about my small house because, again, my mother put her magic to work creating a cozy, festive home.

As we matriculated through high school, I was fiercely adamant about going to college. At fifteen, I was working 20-30 hours a week in an exclusive clothing boutique to save money. I kept my grades up for college scholarships so I wouldn’t have to take out loans. My wealthy friends knew their parents would pay for the most expensive universities, so they let their grades slip. They preferred driving around in new luxury sports cars. I was thrilled to be able to afford the local state college and drive a used Volkswagen. I was truly on my own, no strings attached.

By the time I was 22, I had a B.S. in Human Services. I worked two and three jobs while managing my own apartment and bills. I worked full-time as a classroom aide while getting my teaching credentials and a master’s degree. Those same kids who had everything were partying most of their days away, going to a class every now and then. When I started my teaching career 36 years ago, I lived in West Los Angeles experiencing all the glitz and glamour of being young and free. My wealthy friends were still in the suburbs wondering where their lives would lead.

I turn 60 in June. I am retiring with a full retirement package, and I still have the drive and energy of my youth to achieve new goals. Many of those same wealthy friends are jumping from job to job and worrying about having no retirement. I told my mother today, “Thank you for giving me the confidence to live life on my own terms.” And I mean it.

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